invader

The Invader – #13

****FYI**** I wrote this post in early July 2020. I’ll be writing another post soon about my recent hospital stay and current condition. 🙂

 

So I’m on chemo again – a somewhat different kind of chemo than before. It’s not as hard on me as the one last summer/fall……except for the fatigue. I’m just wiped out most of the time. Some of the other side effects are making things taste weird, nausea – still losing weight because of this and not on purpose :(, and my skin – especially on my hands and feet – has taken on a kind of papery/leathery condition so that callouses peel right off and I must use a lot of lotion, especially when combined with the handwashing we need to do now. In addition to the neuropathy in my hands -pain and numbness together, some is from diabetes, some is from chemo – the leathery skin is quite sensitive, so I cannot knit and can barely play guitar. I’m determined to play guitar though – I do not want to lose whatever skill I’ve so painstakingly acquired over the years. I could probably sew, ‘cept all my sewing stuff is in boxes at the moment (we took up the carpet and haven’t really decided what’s next, so everything is in boxes in the garage). I also seem to have become a little bit allergic to one of our dogs. She sheds plenty, so my nose runs a lot. What an adventure this all is…….I keep telling myself this – it does help most of the time.

In my mind I can run like this anyway…

The fatigue is a real grind though. I get up and try to act normal for even 15 minutes – say, just making a cup of tea – and then I have to go lie down for at least 15 minutes. I also have to be careful, if I fall asleep, that means I’ll have trouble sleeping at night. I guess I should say *more* trouble, as insomnia has been a nearly constant companion my whole life. The chemo is over a 3 week period – I have one week where I’m not taking anything and I start to feel a little more normal, a little less fatigued and then then next week, I’m back to near-zombie levels. Fatigue is really, really boring. You’d think oh now I can read a lot. Nope – can’t really concentrate well enough. Audiobooks are good at night if they’re not too interesting; if they’re too interesting I stay awake. If they’re too boring, I get frustrated. I tried to take part/watch an online conference I was very interested in, but like a fool I didn’t sign in on my tablet, I signed in on my ‘puter. So I’d watch for a while, then go lie down for a while. If I can drink a little caffeine it helps but it’s hard to drink right now since everything taste so strange. It seems to me daily just a waiting game for me – when will I feel better? I want to work in the garden just a little and even the thought exhausts me. Writing this post is taking 50 times longer than usual. AND I’m even more forgetful now – chemo brain is REAL. Whinge, whinge, whinge…..I know. it could be worse….

This cat looks how I feel most of the time……………

I do have some good news. My CEA is down. Still not in the normal range – I’ll be on chemo unless and until I hit that range (0 – 10 mmg), but down to 35! Previously I was hovering around 100, so it seems the chemo is working. All this is worthwhile if I’m beating the Invader. Truly, I don’t think it would be happening without all the prayers. I can FEEL them and I cannot thank you all enough.

Thank You!

The Invader – #11

Hey everybody! How y’all doin’? It’s been a minute and some things are happening so I guess it’s time for another health update from me.

Clock GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Because of the spread of the corona virus, I have been staying at home almost all the time – only out for doctor visits, walking the dogs and the occasional joyride in the car wearing my mask of course. The radio station has been automated for several weeks now so I cannot do my radio show either – I’m definitely missing that. I had a conversation with Studmuffin yesterday about just how long I’m prepared to stay at home. This discussion was difficult to have because he & I have been reading different things from different sources and I think also because he’s never been seriously ill. Please don’t get me wrong – he has been an absolute solid rock of support to me during this whole cancer thing! I do tend to minimize my discomfort to him, for why tell him? He cannot do anything to help and it will only distress him. So he doesn’t know just how bad I have been feeling and that’s OK I think. But as far as Covid-19 goes, he’s a lot less concerned about it than I am. Not only am I a Stage-4 cancer patient undergoing serious treatment but I am a diabetic as well. If I get the virus, it is likely – even with excellent health care – to be fatal for me. He doesn’t think so – he thinks I’m “tougher” than that, whatever that means.

I may be a tough cookie…but even cookies crumble!

Unlike me, he has not read the first hand accounts of those who have had the virus, or from front-line doctors and nurses as to how bad it really is.  Just by personal inclination, I have a greater interest in biology, life sciences and medicine than he does; yup, I’m a nerd who reads medical journals for FUN. Over the years, including the various medical problems I’ve had personally, I’ve acquired  perhaps a patchy but still somewhat greater understanding about immunology than he’s got, and I can point him in the direction of good information, but in my experience he won’t read any of it; he’s just not that interested. Fortunately, he’s not so far gone as to be advocating the cure of drinking bleach or Lysol! In short, I will be staying home and away from others most likely until there is a far greater understanding of this virus’s infection vectors and quite possibly until there’s a good vaccine.

Overall, life is pretty good because it’s spring.  Plenty of blooming things and pollen and birds and such. That always gives me a boost. I’ve really needed it because I’ve had a LOT of physical reaction to the liver microwaving and radiation treatment – pain, nausea and fatigue; basically the usual but it has been particularly intense since the microwaving. Generally speaking, I often have an unusual, personal reaction to drugs and procedures that the vast majority of people do not. Turns out, one of my aunts is the same way so I’m not even special! 🙂 So the duration of the nausea and pain is somewhat idiosyncratic but still on the outer edge of the range of normal.

Sick as a….frog

A bit of good news in that the “marker” in my blood which can indicate the presence or growth of “my kind” of cancer dropped significantly after the microwaving. The marker value isn’t yet close to the normal range, but it is the lowest since I got my cancer diagnosis so that’s all good.

On Thursday, I’ll be having another PET scan and starting a new round of chemotherapy. The PET scan will help us see more clearly all the changes in my liver and the lesions there, and the chemo will be of the pills only kind, so it won’t be as difficult to go through and I probably won’t lose my hair again – surprising how important that is to me even now.

If you have a spare prayer around, please send it in the way of my dad. He’s had pneumonia and some serious heart problems (not covid-19 thank God); he’s back in ICU for the second time in 2 weeks and he hates hospitals and I hope not only that he gets better but that he gets to go home much better than he is now. I’m trying not to worry about him or my mother.

Lastly, I can never tell you – because the words don’t exist! – just how grateful I am for all of the comments and prayers and support that all y’all have given me. It means EVERYTHING. My heart overflows with love and gratitude to each one of you.

The Invader – #6

PART ONE

So I have completed chemotherapy as of mid-October. Hooray!

text that says hip-hip hooray!I have to say that last round really took it out of me! It has taken me a month to start feeling half-way normal – but I’m not really complaining. I’m still not myself but each day is a little better. I’m hoping my hair will grow back soon, but in the meantime I’m looking for a wig. It’s harder than you think….

blue fright wig

What most wigs look like on me

What my oncologist was aiming for with my treatment was to get me to a point where I could have liver surgery and ablation. To back it up a bit, all of the colon cancer was removed during the colon resection last May, but the cancer had spread (metastasized) to my liver. As of July, I was borderline on the criteria for liver surgery and ablation – I might be able to have the surgery or I might not. The chemo was designed to keep me eligible for liver surgery and/or ablation once chemo was done. More specifically, the scans (both CT and PET) showed 3 large lesions in the left lobe of my liver and and another possible lesion in the right lobe (the pointier one) of my liver. My oncologist told me that the option of surgery was only possible after this first scheme of chemotherapy; generally the liver would be too damaged after subsequent rounds of chemo for it to heal and regenerate after surgery.

cartoon of a smiling liver

Doesn’t everyone want a happy liver?

Now if the liver lesions I had were all located in one lobe of the liver, they probably would have removed that lobe and called it done, but since I had lesions in both lobes, a combination of surgery and ablation would be done. I may not have this bit right, but my understanding was that the surgeon would remove the larger lesions surgically from 1 lobe and the special oncology radiologist would use a laser to burn out the lesion on the other lobe -that’s the ablation part. This is very serious surgery. I was gonna be in the hospital for at least 10 days post-op (the longest hospital stay I’ve ever had) and the recovery period for my liver was gonna take a number of months.  I learned shortly after the Invader #5 update that I was still doing well enough to have the surgery (above the cutoff line – yay!) AND that if the surgery was successful, I would have a 30 – 50% of being CANCER-FREE!!!! What terrific news!  The only reason I didn’t immediately post about it here was that i did not have a date for the surgery; I only knew that we were aiming for late November.

My fantasy is that laser ablation would be joyous and fun like a laser light show……

PART TWO

So last week we met with the surgeon again (lovely guy he is, as is my oncologist) to discuss the surgery and set up the date. When he came into the examination room, the first thing he said was that my scans looked REALLY good. We’d already had some indications that I had responded quite well to the chemo; a couple months ago the oncologist had seen no new lesions and some of the old ones had shrunk- all good news. As of my most recent PET scan, the surgeon told me that they could no longer see the lesions….so NO LIVER SURGERY FOR NOW.  This is fantastic news!!!

giphy

He showed us the most recent scans, contrasted with the older scans and it’s a miracle. You can see some scarring of the liver where the lesions were but no lesions.  He said that it doesn’t mean that there are no cancer cells left in my liver, we cannot say I am cancer-free, but that we will take a wait-and-see approach.

keep calm and just wait and see

I will have another scan in mid- to -late December to see if more needs to be done – if the lesions reappear, grow or new lesions show up. Depending on the results of that scan, I may need surgery, more chemo, radiation, perhaps some other therapy or maybe nothing else at all. Again, this is wonderful news. In one sense, I feel somewhat ambivalent about it because I was focused on having the surgery – surgery is something I have had a good bit of and I understand it fairly well I think. And it is something concrete with a before and an after, with some odds of being cancer-free to go along with it. The wait-and-see approach, as great news as it is and as happy as I am NOT to be having major surgery this month, is more vague and uncertain to me. I don’t have any odds or percentages at the moment and it’s harder for me to get my head around it. Still, it’s TERRIFIC news!


Back in July when I was told this was incurable cancer, I didn’t believe it. Over the months since, the news has gotten better and better, and I believe with all my heart it is all the good energy and the thousands of prayers that so so many of you have sent my way. I am SO GRATEFUL.

thanks a million

Thank you fifty skadillion times over.

It means EVERYTHING to me.

I’ll keep you posted.

Je vous remercie

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Invader – #5

Since last I told my cancer story, the news has been cautiously good. Sorry for making everyone wait so long for this most recent update – I’ve been caught up with a bunch of things and frankly, since working on my book (7 years now – gotta get serious and fininsh this thing!) I’ve fallen out of the habit of carving out writing time to do a post here and there.

I hope you know, and I’m telling you now, the comments I receive about the blog are deeply encouraging and I am so grateful. It really helps me to find the time to write. I usually have the posts all in my head – I’m just lazy about the typing. If I ever get speech-to-text for my ‘puter, well just WATCH OUT! But back to the Invader.

Since last I wrote, my chemotherapy regime has changed to a more intense therapy and so the side effects have been a good deal more serious. 80% of my hair has fallen out – let me tell you the hair coming out in locks in the shower is a really tough moment. I bought a wig over the Internet – it was a bargain – and oh my was that a mistake – wrong color big time and the style well let’s just say it inspired laughter.

Did you know you can get stones in your salivary glands? I had no idea….until I got one. So I’m already kind of a zombie because it was chemo week and Friday afternoon, while having yet another expensive scan (with radioactive dye which makes me sick every time – did I mention that they are hella expensive?) I got that twinge one gets when one’s salivary glands are gonna swell – like with a cold. I didn’t think much of it til later. By 8:30 that evening, I was in serious pain, even after taking painkillers, so we went to the ER. After hours & hours of waiting (whilst whatever pain killers I had taken wore off) I finally got in to see a dr. They gave me a pain shot which eased it for just a couple of hours, and another CT scan with radioactive resist – my second in less thatn 12 hrs (different parts of the body were scanned each time) and I learned that 1) I had a stone or some blockage of the left side parotid salivary gland (I was unfamiliar with this gland – it’s sort of kidney shaped and kind of wraps around your ear) and 2) the treatment consists of warm moist compresses, massage and chewing lemons and sour candy. The idea behind the lemons and sour candy is to get the gland to produce more saliva to flush out the blockage. And they gave me a prescription for some narcotic pain meds and a course of antibiotics.

I knew I’d be seeing my oncologist on that next Monday, so I tried to follow the instructions….but the pain was SO INTENSE. We called the after hours number for the oncologist to let him know what was happening and Studmuffin spoke to the nurse – she said I could take a double dose of the pain med – THANK GOD. Finally the pain was bearable. Meanwhile my face was swelling more and more – I was producing lots of saliva but it was backing up as the duct was still blocked The swelling was interfering with not only chewing but my breathing. I was sleeping sitting up on the couch so I could keep breathing!

My oncologist upon seeing me postponed my chemo treatment for that week and immediately whipped out his phone and called an ENT friend of his – got me in to see him THAT afternoon; a near impossible feat. I *love* my oncologist for doing that. Anyway, got into the ENT dr. and he affirmed the diagnosis and almost immediately put on gloves and got his hands in my mouth (in my experience as a kid, some ENT’s are quite reluctant to be hands on) to massage and see what was happening. That was very helpful to me because it showed me how much pressure I should be applying (hint: it was a lot more than I had been doing). He essentially told me to keep doing what I was doing, gave me another prescription for the pain meds and to come see him in 5 days. I admit that I cried right there in his office because I felt so hopeless at that point. I felt so awful and this was all the treatment they could offer in 2019? And the pain….

Well let’s talk about pain. I’m not a pain weenie. Every surgery I’ve had, except the colon resection last May, I wound up not taking all the pain meds I was prescribed, because I don’t like taking narcotics unless I absolutely have to and I can bear a fair amount of pain – the crusty New Englander part of me feels the need to point this out. 🙂 Anyway, I have saved those leftover medications over the years and they have come in handy on several occasions – earaches, somebody throws their back out, that kind of thing. I am always very, very, very careful with dosages; these medicines are serious business. When I started taking double the pain meds to make the pain bearable, well I was running out and I am very thankful that I still had a few tablets left from my heart surgery 10 years earlier (FYI – tablets are very, very stable over decades if kept in a reasonable environment (not too hot or cold and low humidity). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any kind of “stash” at all, just a very few tablets left over here and there. This helped me get through. Truly, this has been one of the most painful things I have EVER experienced – and I’ve had heart sugery and given birth 3 times!

So just as I am taking the antibiotic (a pill so big I have to split it into quarters to swallow it) I develop a yeast infection as well. This is TMI I am certain, but I feel I wanna say it because it only added to the over all misery. I had this as well as “elimination follies”* and I was not at all interested in eating; in fact I ate nothing for 3 days at one point. I did, because of a great sacrifice on my husband’s part, get to go to the Affrolachian On-Time Gathering, which was probably the best medicine I could have had. The gathering deserves its own post but I don’t have the energy to do that right now. Just know that all y’all oughta be going next year!

Eventually I was sent to Birmingham to see another ENT who has a nifty scope for this gland – the Duke of Curl had to drive me down and back, and the doc was running WAY late (2.5 hrs late) so none of that was fun. He told me that I was too swollen to scope and that I should take about 2 weeks more antibiotics to clear this thing out. He did not see evidence of what I have been calling my “face rock” so presumably it has passed. I can breathe normally, sleep in my bed and chew normally again, too. I am off narcotics and am not taking anything other than Ibuprofen for pain and inflammation.

This is the really gross part so you might wanna skip this paragraph. I started having some swelling go down and some relief after my first ENT visit and the much stronger massage. The most painful area, and the most swollen, is just in front of and just behind the ear. So the day after I finish the 7 day course of antibiotics I got from the ER doc, I’m massaging behind my ear and the skin ruptures and all this bloody pus comes draining out. I had actually given a good deal of thought into opening that area up myself with a large, sterile needle, but I’m just as happy not to have to do that and that it occurred naturally. It is still draining (almost 2 weeks now) and the B’ham ENT cultured the pus and has as of yesterday given me a new antibiotic to take (very large pills that cannot be split and are quite challenging for me to swallow).

Last week was chemo and it hit me wicked hard. When I can sleep, I have lots of vivid nightmares (my therapist calls them “poison dreams”) and I am much, much weaker than I have been – so weak that I have been afraid to drive myself places. I’m tryna take a trip to NH to see family in a week – it’s a little iffy that I can even go. Still I am feeling better today than in the last 3 weeks.

It’s been six months since my diagnosis so I guess I’m officially down to 18 months life expectancy – that’s not what I say it is and of course God has the final say in all cases. I thank you from the bottom of my soul for all the prayers and I hope you’ll keep on praying for me; the prayers are keeping me going. Next up will be the big liver ablation in November, if I’m well enough to do it. I’ll try to write more frequently and briefly in the future.